Tag Archives: London

Britain’s Brexit: the left must fight for migrant rights


The result of the Brexit vote stunned the British political elite and sent shockwaves around the world; it was welcomed by separatist and rightwing populist movements in Europe and by Donald Trump as he visited his golf courses in Scotland. By just over a million votes in a high turnout referendum, the public voted to leave the European Union. The vote was uneven: Scotland voted by a large majority to remain, as did London.

It was a victory for the far right of the Tory party, which campaigned incessantly on restricting immigration. But there are other deep-seated reasons for the Brexit vote. Foremost among them is the resentment of the white working class, especially in the North, over deindustrialization, degradation of benefits like housing, health and education, which is blamed on immigrants as the most visible sign of what is in fact a neoliberal reconstruction of society.

Gary Younge argues: “Britain is no more sovereign today than it was yesterday. We have left the EU but we remain within the neoliberal system. … The chutzpah with which the Tory right – the very people who had pioneered austerity, damaging jobs, services and communities – blamed immigrants for the lack of resources was breathtaking.”

Owen Jones commented: “It may not have been the working-class revolt against the political establishment that many of us favoured, but it is undeniable that this result was achieved off the back of furious, alienated working-class votes. … Many of the communities that voted most decisively for leave were the same communities that have suffered the greatest battering under successive governments.”

What started as a maneuver by prime minister David Cameron to control the rightwing of his party resonated with the country in an unprecedented way. Younger voters and those living in metropolitan centres like London, Manchester and Liverpool voted for Remain, while in the deindustrialized north and midlands there were large majorities for Leave. The country is now intensively polarized and resentful of the other side.

The New York Times reported on the generational divide: “Leslie Driscoll, 55, sells hot cross buns in an English bakery in London. Having different cultures and communities is ‘fantastic,’ she said, ‘but what I don’t like is the fact that, through having that, we’ve now left ourselves open. I feel like a second-class citizen in my own country’.” Her daughter Louise grew up in the same area “but in a more prosperous, multicultural Britain than earlier generations had. In school, she was one of only two white students. Her friends are Eritrean, Nigerian and South African. Louise said she understood the pressures that immigration placed on schools and hospitals. But leaving the European Union worried her, she said, because it risked wrecking the economy and making it hard for young people to secure employment. It took her eight months to find work as a barista, she said.”

John Harris commented in the Guardian: “for millions of people, the word ‘immigration’ is reducible to yet another seismic change no one thought to ask them about, or even explain. What people seem to want is much the same as ever: security, stability, some sense of a viable future, and a reasonable degree of esteem. To be more specific, public housing is not a relic of the 20th century, but something that should surely sit at the core of our politics.”

Not that the vote will change that; if anything it will make things worse. Brexit voters were making a plea for a return to a self-contained economy with defined borders that would allow for a national compromise on jobs and benefits – in other words, Britain as it was before Thatcher, or rather an idealized country of the past.

Fintan O’Toole comments in The Irish Times: “The sense of grievance is undeniably powerful. It’s also highly contrary: it is rooted in the shrinking of British social democracy, but the outcome of Brexit will be an even firmer embrace of the unfettered neoliberalism that is causing that shrinkage. … The great cultural appeal of nationalism – we need independence or our culture will die – doesn’t wash. And besides, take immigrants out of English culture and what do you have left?”

Some on the left consider the result a progressive move that could lead to the weakening of neoliberalism. Joseph Choonara of the British Socialist Workers Party told Democracy Now that he hoped the vote “begins to precipitate the breakup of this huge bosses’ club. So that’s the basis on which we campaigned for exit of the U.K. from the EU. It was on the basis of an internationalist, anti-racist and progressive vote against neoliberalism. … The point is that there is going to be popular opposition to these kind of institutions. Does it receive a right focus or a left focus?” Alex Scrivener of Global Justice Now disagreed: “We’ve woken up today to a Britain in which it is a much, much scarier place to be a migrant. … Austria came within a whisker of electing a far-right president. We are living in very terrifying times. The National Front may be—is leading the polls at the moment for the French presidential election. You know, I think we’re on a level of political crisis here we haven’t seen since the 1930s. And I think that the sort of glee on some parts of the left about the EU breaking up, I think people are going to regret that, if that leads to a retreat into nationalism, which is already happening.”

In a similar debate on The Real News Network, John Hilary of War on Want said that the referendum gave a voice to voters’ desire for change: “so many millions of people voted saying, we do not trust our government and political elites anymore; we want a different type of politics which does not just serve the interests of the few … this is genuinely a return to a situation where we have direct democracy again, not a situation of the European Commission being able to hide all the time behind the democratic deficit that exists at the heart of the E.U.” Economics professor John Weeks responded: “Immigration was the issue people that voted on: we’ve got too many foreigners over here in Britain. That’s what the Out won on, and that is what they are going to pursue. And if I were the person that takes over after David Cameron, I would immediately call an election with the confidence that I could win it. And the reason that the Tories could win it is because the Labour Party is split. Most of Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs would love to see him defeated and will not work for a Labour Party to win. And when that happens, we could be in a very difficult situation indeed.”

The left needs to face up to the reality of the Brexit vote – the toxic nature of the Leave campaign created a nationalist backlash against immigrants who will need to be defended. The left has a huge responsibility and opportunity now, as Alex Scrivener of Global Justice said, “to fight for migrant rights, fight for those people who are going to lose hardest from this historic and tragic moment in our history.”

The idea that breaking up the EU means that opposition to neoliberalism will gain an advantage by only confronting a nationally delimited capitalist class is a fantasy. The UK was only ever an independent nation because it was sustained by a huge empire, and Thatcher carried out the last act of an independent nation-state when she opened up the country to international capital after the defeat of the miners’ year-long strike. Since then it’s been under the thrall of one neoliberal government after another.

Colonel Despard will be publishing a three-part reappraisal of the 1984-85 miners’ strike and its international implications, the lessons of which have still not been absorbed by the left. Watch for the first instalment next week.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Brexit, Britain, British elections, Cameron, David Cameron, deindustrialization, immigration, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, Thatcher, Uncategorized

Londoners reject anti-semitism smear and Islamophobia


The FBI is claiming success in dozens of anti-terrorism cases that rely on its undercover agents suggesting bombing campaigns against Jewish targets to susceptible Muslim youth, then supplying fake bombs for suspects to plant. In order for the FBI to avoid the charge of entrapment, the suspects were coaxed by the agents into voicing anti-semitic remarks which could be used to prove predisposition and deny them credibility. The US security forces, of course, cooperate closely with their Israeli counterparts, and appear to have learnt from them the use of allegations of anti-semitism as a political tactic calculated to overcome doubts about guilt.

The same tactic was used by the Tories in the recent London mayoral election, fabricating and amplifying allegations of anti-semitism against individuals in the Labour party – then claiming the party was “riddled with anti-semitism.” Combined with a virulent Islamophobic campaign against the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, the Lynton Crosby-masterminded strategy targeted Jewish votes in outer London constituencies that were assumed to be marginal. In parliament, prime minister Cameron tried to tar Jeremy Corbyn with the anti-semitism brush by suggesting an association between Khan and a supporter of ISIS – but the individual he referred to turned out to be a Conservative party supporter.

The tactic rebounded on them when millions of ethnically diverse Londoners, in a turnout sharply higher than four years ago, repudiated the Tory candidate’s racist campaign and elected Khan by a decisive majority. The voters responded to the social issues he campaigned on, above all the crisis of affordable housing and transport, rejecting the Tory policy of pandering to a tiny few in order to attract their wealth.

Demographic changes have changed London’s political profile significantly from previous mayoral elections. Migrant voters and ethnic minorities make up a larger slice of the electorate, and the catastrophic rise in house prices has forced people out of the centre of the city into the outer boroughs, which have become poorer and more diverse. Manchester University lecturer Rob Ford told the Guardian: “Any mainstream party associated with anti-racism, as Labour is, potentially has huge appeal.” The Guardian adds: “The dysfunctional rental and property markets, the spread of unpaid internships, the particularly obvious need in London for more state spending on overcrowded schools and transport infrastructure – all of these have drawn young Londoners towards Corbyn’s mildly anti-capitalist Labour party.”

Socially liberal, multiracial Labour politics are “spreading to cities with significant student and ethnic minority populations, such as Oxford, Southampton, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol, where last week the mayoralty was won by Marvin Rees, a mixed-race Labour candidate close to Corbyn. Simon Woolley of the non-partisan pressure group Operation Black Vote, who followed the Bristol contest closely, says that Rees’s victory was partly achieved by a coalition between black Bristolians and white, liberal incomers from London.”

After his victory, Khan penned an opinion piece in the Observer that implicitly rejects Corbyn’s electoral strategy, suggesting that he is failing to appeal to a wide enough electorate. Khan’s recipe for winning elections is “to unite people from all backgrounds as a broad and welcoming tent – not to divide and rule. … Just like in London, so-called natural Labour voters alone will never be enough to win a general election. We must be able to persuade people who previously voted Conservative that Labour can be trusted with the economy and security, as well as improving public services and creating a fairer society.”

However, although he spent much of his campaign in outer London boroughs touting a pro-business policy, Khan didn’t achieve his majority by winning over disaffected Tories. Nor did the result reflect his religion or charisma. He fails to mention that his success in inspiring young Londoners to come out and vote in such numbers was because of his association with the Labour party’s rejection of neoliberalism under Corbyn’s leadership. Other successful Labour candidates in places like Bristol, Liverpool and Salford had the same experience. Corbyn’s own assessment of the election results was that they were “only the first stage in our task of building a winning electoral majority, attracting voters from all the other parties and mobilising those who have been turned off politics altogether – as we did last week in Bristol and London.” There’s an important difference in nuance between the two statements. Khan is advocating moving the party to the centre to attract Tory voters; Corbyn, by contrast, is in favour of attracting new voters to Labour’s position.

Hostile Labour MPs have seized on Khan’s remarks, as well as his criticism of Labour’s slow reaction to the anti-semitism charges, to blame Corbyn for results that would fail to give the party a majority at the next general election. Their antagonism reflects a struggle to overturn the Labour leadership vote; as Max Blumenthal comments: “The right-leaning elements empowered by Tony Blair are determined to suppress the influence of an increasingly youthful, ethnically diverse party base that views the hawkish, pro-business policies of the past with general revulsion. … Labour’s Blairite wing has embraced a cynical strategy to shatter the progressive coalition that brought Corbyn to power.”

Labour are rightly concerned about their dismal result in Scotland. There, the vote was polarized between nationalist and anti-nationalist, leaving no political space for Labour’s anti-austerity message. Instead, the party was trounced because of its dismal record over the independence referendum. Instead of recognizing it as a chance to reject austerity imposed by a government that Scots never voted for, Labour supported the union. No wonder anti-nationalists preferred to vote for the party that more directly expresses unionism, the Conservatives. No amount of left promises will erase voters’ memories of Gordon Brown huckstering for the Tory side.

Labour needs to continue building social coalitions while recognizing the importance of Welsh and Scottish national identities. The idea of “Britishness” has been eroded by years of industrial decline and the privatization of nationalized industries like shipbuilding, steel, mining, railways and electricity supply that gave the multinational union some coherence and held the labour movement together. The Tories define British identity as presupposing people who are white, property-owning middle class and subordinated to the Westminster parliament, but they have been definitively rebuked in London.

Leave a comment

Filed under British elections, Israel, Jeremy Corbyn, Multiculturalism, Neoliberalism, Sidiq Khan, Uncategorized